Sheldon Silver Polls a Potential Primary Opponent, Maybe

Last month, a market-research firm called my apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to gauge support for Paul Newell. I admitted that I had never heard Newell’s name, but the caller quickly told me that Newell will challenge my state assembly representative – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver – in the Democratic primary in September.

The caller continued and told me that Newell was 32, worked as a community organizer, lived on the Lower East Side and would be a Democratic candidate for state assembly against Silver. The caller then presented positive statements about Newell and Silver and then negative statements about Silver. He asked me to respond if the statements would make me “more likely” or “less likely” to vote for that candidate.

Silver has been in the State Assembly since 1976, became Speaker in 1994 and hasn’t had a primary challenger in several years. His campaign committee has almost $3 million. Newell’s committee has less than $20,000. The cost of hiring a polling firm is several thousand dollars.

I called Silver to ask if he had commissioned the poll. He said only that he did a lot of polling in the city and state and couldn’t be sure if he did the poll in question. He said he had never heard of the polling company, Pacific Crest Research, which, The Brooklyn Paper reported, conducted pro-Atlantic Yards polls in 2005. But he did say that Newell might have come up in a poll he commissioned.

“I don’t poll about Paul Newell,” Silver said. “His name might have been mentioned in a poll.”

When asked if he was worried about Newell, Silver responded: “I’m always confident that my record on education, rebuilding ground zero and transportation is unmatched by any public official. I think my record speaks for itself.”

I spoke to Newell, who said he heard about the poll from several people, and that he had no doubt that Silver commissioned the poll to see how vulnerable he is.

Newell said that he believed Silver’s campaign may have been reacting to some 6,000 fliers he and his supporters handed out to voters in the 64th Assembly District on Super Tuesday. From what he heard of the poll, Newell said, the positives about him presented to poll respondents came almost verbatim from the flier.

“My gut reaction [to the poll] is that I can’t believe he’s calling this many voters and telling them my positives and his negatives,” Newell said. “I thought it meant that he’s taking the race seriously, but I might have liked if the giant had been sleeping for a few more months.”

Newell said that he didn’t have the money to hire a polling company. His campaign had $18,000 according to its latest filing. He said since January his campaign had raised $10,000 through online donations.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Sheldon Silver commissioned the poll,” Newell said. “It was either me or him, and it wasn’t me.”

The district does have a third candidate for September’s primary in attorney, Luke Henry. But Henry has less money than Newell. Henry’s campaign committee submitted an in-lieu-of statement in January, which means it had less than $1,000 in receipts or expenditures.

Newell, who is a delegate for Barack Obama from New York’s 12th Congressional District, recently made news when he asked Hillary Clinton to drop out. He admitted that taking down Silver would be difficult.

In 2004, Newell got the idea to run against Silver when he went to vote against him in the primary and his polling station was closed due to a lack of contested elections. On his way home, he met a woman who said that he should run against Silver. He laughed it off. But four years later, he’s campaigning for office.

“I’ve been considering it for about four years,” Newell said. “It’s been increasingly clear that Albany is broken. [Silver] just doesn’t symbolize what’s broken with Albany. He is what’s broken.”

Sheldon Silver Polls a Potential Primary Opponent, Maybe